Miscellany

Staking the Plains Gift Guide: For the (meat) Smoker

Bring on the meat

I’ve recently been introduced to the wonderful world of backyard barbecue. Evie Mae’s and The Shack are great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something to making mouth-watering brisket at home and sharing it with those you love. Or pork ribs. Or beef ribs. Or steak. Or pulled pork. You get the point. Serving barbecue at the upcoming family gathering will win you all kinds of points. You can even do your family’s prime rib on the smoker.

Like just about everything else in life, Amazon can be your friend.

The Smoker

If you already have a smoker you’re happy with, skip right on over this and get to the fun toys below.

You’re going to need something to cook/smoke your meat with and for the ease of startup for a beginner, I can’t recommend a pellet smoker enough. It’s very close to the Ronco rotisserie ovens in terms of operation.

With a pellet smoker, set the temperature and then follow your recipes for when to check back on your cut. You can rock with an offset wood smoker or even the old trusty Weber kettle grill, but they require way more attention.

Traeger makes excellent, high-quality smokers and I would recommend something like the Pro Series 22 on up. You’ll be able to fit a full-size brisket on this. Traeger is sold locally at most home improvement stores and if you’re in Lubbock, I’d suggest you check out the Outdoor Chef (they have everything from smokers, to grills, charcoal, accessories, rubs, sauces, and everything in between).

If you want something a little more economical, check out Green Mountain Grills, Z Grills, or PitBoss. I have a Z Grill myself and have no complaints. What you’re going to get with more expensive grills is better temperature control (thicker steel on the barrel, better firebox components, more accurate thermometer, etc.), but my <$400 Z Grill has been a workhorse.

You’ll also need pellets to fuel your beast. You can go with the more economical bags at Walmart, but they don’t offer as many flavor/wood types and aren’t as consistent on their burns as others.

Thermometer

The very next tool/toy you’ll need is a decent thermometer. You can do an analog thermometer for $6, or you can go all out and get a wireless, bluetooth, or wi-fi model like this Meater set ($230). If it comes with an app, even better. Find one that fits your needs. You’ll need to check internal temperatures occasionally throughout your cooks and having to constantly go out to the smoker, open the lid and stick an analog probe adds up (plus you lose heat in the smoker every time you open the door). My suggestion is something in the middle, like this two-probe wireless set from Thermopro ($60). The two probes allows you to monitor a couple of different meats simultaneously, monitor both ends of a brisket, or monitor the meat and the grill temp.

You could also consider a digital instant read thermometer. Not only will these give you the temp, but you can also get a feel for the tenderness of the meat with the probe. Remember though, that you’d still need to open the smoker to use this kind of thermometer. These are more appropriate to use towards the end of a cook.

Cookwear

Dealing with meat can be messy. You’ll need a couple of things 1) to keep you/your cooks safe, and 2) to assert your dominance when party guests arrive (you want to look the part).

First, you’ll need gloves. These help keep your hands clean and from contaminating different surfaces after you’ve touched raw/uncooked meats. Nitrile gloves are cheap and work great. You’ll also want some cotton gloves to wear under the nitrile gloves when handling hot foods (something like these). Both items can be had on the cheap.

I’d also recommend some kind of apron. YouTube Q-er MadScientistBBQ rocks a leather apron, kind of like a butcher but without the chainmail. Enough pockets to keep your essentials on you and thick enough to keep sharp knives from cutting you. Plus, it’s not your wife’s cutesy floral cotton apron and looks legit.

Cutlery

You will definitely need sharp blades. You need to trim the majority of your bbq cuts before going on the smoker, and then you’ll need to cut/slice them to serve. Technically, you could probably use the same knife here for both.

For pre-cook trimming, get a curved, non-serrated boning knife. They’re short and flexible to get around the trimming you’ll need to make.

For the big show, you’ll want to pull out a 12+ inch slicing knife – something with a granton blade/edge.

Those scallops help cut delicate meats without shredding. Plus, they look cool. Victorinox make great blades, but I have been happy with my $13 version of this knife.

Random A** Accessories You’ll Wish You Had

Spray bottle. Most smoking recipes call for the meat to be sprayed intermittently throughout.

Butcher paper. Helps stop the browning of the meat once you reach your desired color even with hours left on the cook. Plus, it looks like you pulled this off a BBQ restaurant’s warmer. One of these rolls will last you quite some time.

Large cutting board. You’ll need some space when slicing a brisket and a large, bamboo butcher block completes the look. You can also customize here with clever sayings, logos, etc. The moat going around the exterior is important to catch any juices from running off the board.

Head lamp. Smoking large cuts takes some time, often more hours than we have daylight. Head lamp frees up a hand in case you need to make any adjustments on the smoker in the dark.

Plastic seasoning shaker bottle. You’ll start out with some sore bought seasonings and that’s ok. When you decide you’d like to try to customize the blend yourself, these bottles will help you mix and apply your custom blend just as if you had bought it in the store.

Basting brush/mop. Some cooks will require to sauce at the end and these will help you apply sauce and move it around without too much added mess.

The Meat

Finally, you’re going to need something to put all of these tools to work. Find you a local butcher shop. They’ll have the most selection and can do some cool, custom cuts you won’t find in the supermarket (like full racks of beef ribs). In Lubbock, you can check out Raider Red Meats, The Market at Evie Mae’s, or Llano Estacado Cattle Company. All offer fantastic meats and if you make friends with the fine people behind the counter, you can probably get yourself some deals.

You can never have too much BBQ stuff, no matter what the wife says. More tools, more spices, more everything. Get out there, smoke some meat and dominate your upcoming event.

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